Sarah Fawn Montgomery
All winter, the lake across from my New England home freezes and thaws, a perpetual metamorphosis from the liquidity of water to the solidity of ice. The water body dwells in possibility, never fully one thing or the other, frozen in some places, liquid in others, ice giving way at the shore, becoming water that laps at the beach from beneath the solid edge. Even when frozen, the water moves beneath its icy shell, currents a constant thrumming, thriving reminder.
I would like to live like that. Like ice. I would like to live in a body never fully fixed, changing with the seasons rather than resisting them. This is a far cry from my own way of living, body tense against the cold, stiff and aching, a reminder I am bound to the earth by way of my potential to pain. I fight the cold with blankets, feign sun with lights designed to coerce happiness, hibernate though I long to walk around the lake like I do in summer, goslings toddling towards the shore, growing the feathers they will use to fly away for winter. They know, I think, better than to stay here.
Still, they return.
When cold creeps in my bones like old hurt, aches in places more spiritual than physical, I know that winter is close to dread. It is a sorrow, a grief brought by the turn of the earth each year, cyclical, unavoidable. Pain, I’ve learned, is as natural as spring rain and the smell of renewal.
At first, I thrashed, gnashed my teeth against the bitterness, kicked my legs against the dark seeping from the horizon too early each afternoon. I clutched at the soft pink diffuse that hovered briefly over the lake, before vanishing into the sharp, cold black. A native Californian, I had never known a winter that made me want to disappear.
I remained inside, hollow, frozen. I did not know where I ended, where winter began. How I wanted it—me—to end. Breath became burden. I fogged the glass of the windows, the warmth of me sucked quickly outside where it vanished. I was very cold, but too tired to move. When I watched the children roll the cold into a snowman’s parts, assemble him from nothing, I wept. Then I watched, as even under the miserly sun, he disintegrated.
Outside my window, however, the lake danced through the weeks and months. The water changed, even if the dark did not, nor the feeling that void would never end. Sometimes the lake frosted white like mottled marble, veined with movement despite stoic silence. Sometimes the water froze mid-wave, so that even in stillness it moved, powerful despite repose. Other times it thawed to glass, a crisp stillness stretched over the surface like mirror, inverting shore and sky. In winter the whole world seemed upside-down and wrong, like I might never right myself, so I liked the lake this way best of all.
One day, a line appeared across the lake, as though it were splitting. It looked the way I felt, stretched thin and brittle, bone numb and broken in the bleakness. I wondered if sun and the feeling that my existence was my own would ever return. I wasn’t even sure the line existed, so full of sorrow and dread I’d been lately that I’d imagined all sorts of things, couldn’t be sure of anything anymore—my brain, my body, even something as solid as ice.
I watched line widen, the lake splitting in two, the gap growing, dark water visible beneath, gurgling. Sweet. The halves began to fragment into a dozen pieces each, fractal lattice, mosaic in white. But the lake did not break; it split without resistance.
We should live like ice. To transform from one thing to the next. Without struggle or anger. Without grief. To accept existence without control. To dwell in multiplicity.
That winter the lake split, then sealed, only to split again.
Now, in winter, when I am weary, I accept the darkness, rather than resisting. I churn with current even while motionless. I live like ice, for when the lake is frozen, it is easier to see, the sparkling shallows, the endless, velvet depths.
Sarah Fawn Montgomery is the author of Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir (The Ohio State University Press, 2018), and the poetry chapbooks Regenerate: Poems of Mad Women, Leaving Tracks: A Prairie Guide, and The Astronaut Checks His Watch. She is an Assistant Professor at Bridgewater State University.